Addiction treatment ministry marks 30th year in Oklahoma

By Boyce Bowdon, United Methodist News Service…

In the late 1960s, an Oklahoma businessman went to his pastor desperate for help.

“My wife was an alcoholic,” said Jack Turner. “Nearly every week, Vicky was drunk, sometimes for three days at a time. I was worried about her and our three little boys—the oldest was just 8.”

Mr. Turner said he knew he needed to talk to someone who cared and could point him toward help.

“I had high respect for my pastor,” Mr. Turner added. “His sermons were always helpful. I made an appointment, went to his office and told him my situation. Right away, I could tell he didn’t know how to help me. I left his office very disappointed.”

Since he could not find help at his church, Mr. Turner looked elsewhere. His search led him to an upstairs room in an Oklahoma City business district, where a 12-step group had its meetings.

“A couple of guys were sitting at a table drinking coffee,” Mr. Turner remembered. “I told them I had a problem and needed help. They invited me to sit down with them and gave me a cup of coffee. When I left those guys, I had an AA packet in my hand and hope in my heart.”

The Rev. Tiffany Smith, a United Methodist pastor in Grandfield, Okla., attended the Oklahoma Conference’s 2012 Summer School on Chemical Dependency. She’s planning a sermon series on the 12 steps of substance abuse recovery. PHOTO COURTESY BOYCE BOWDON

Called to heal

Mr. Turner said his visit gave him what he needed to introduce his wife to a 12-step program. She joined a group and, eventually, found sobriety.

Relieved that his wife was in recovery, Mr. Turner did not forget the trauma he and his family had experienced because of her addiction. He also did not forget that many of his relatives and friends were suffering because they could not stop drinking. He wanted to help them and others.

“I knew Christ calls us to heal the sick, and I knew alcoholics are sick. But I also knew that many churches didn’t want alcoholics around, and many ministers didn’t know how to help them,” Mr. Turner said.

“I had a passion for helping churches minister to alcoholics. I believed God was giving me that passion. So I asked God to lay out a trail for me to follow that would enable me to find opportunities for training in chemical-dependency ministry that I could make available for pastors and other church leaders.”

God laid out that trail, Mr. Turner said. The trail led him to several outstanding training programs. One stood above the rest: Johnson Institute Summer School on Chemical Dependency in Minnesota.

Mr. Turner enrolled in the two-week intensive training and experiential school designed to educate professionals in the diagnoses and treatment of chemical dependency. He was pleased that medical doctors, psychotherapists and other professionals, who were knowledgeable about addictions and recognized the vital role spiritual care plays in healing, led the school.

Inspiring others

In 1978, convinced that Oklahoma ministers could find valuable help at Johnson Institute, Mr. Turner provided scholarships for 16 pastors to attend the summer training.

The pastors came back eager to help chemically dependent people find sobriety. Word got around. Numerous people—church members and others—attended the school and found support.

In 1982, several ministers who had gone to the Johnson Institute led the Oklahoma Conference in establishing a summer program based on the Minnesota model. Clergy from across Oklahoma came, gained new insights and went back to their churches better prepared to minister to alcoholics in their congregations and communities.

“What those ministers began in 1982 was the beginning of our Oklahoma Conference Summer School on Chemical Dependency,” said Annette Harper, who directs the school. “This year, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary.”

Ms. Harper said the Summer School has gained international recognition for its excellence in addiction awareness and education for clergy and laity.

“Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina and several other conferences have used our school as a model,” Ms. Harper said. “Several [United Methodist] conferences in other countries have sent representatives to our school and adapted it to meet their needs.”

Last year, two ministers from Norway attended the school. In April 2012, they led a regional chemical dependency training school modeled after the one in Oklahoma. Twenty-five people attended. Participants came from Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Jack Turner—now semi-retired—said he is pleased to have been one of the many persons who contributed to the Summer School’s development.

“God used my family’s experiences,” he said, “to lay out a trail for me to follow, and I’m so grateful it has led to our churches becoming more effective agents of God’s healing.”

The Rev. Bowdon is a retired communicator for the Oklahoma Conference and former editor of the conference newspaper.

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Wonderful Ministry! As an Alcoholic.. 5 yrs sober. I have said all along that Church reenforces what I hear and do in AA, and AA reenforces what I hear and do in Church. Great combo. We would like to think that we are welcoming to all, but that image of the drunk in a trench coat laying down on the sidewalk is the only image many have of someone with an addiction. Your efforts and love are the best that I have seen in changing some of that perception As you can imagine, I believe in AA, it works if… Read more »

Tim, The Addiction Ministries of the Oklahoma UM Conference would love to have you at our next Summer School Session, June 16-28th, 2013. Please visit our webpage for more information. You may apply for a scholarship that will pay for all your materials, lodging and meals through the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV) of the General Board of Global Ministires. I also believe the Church and 12-Step programs make a wonderful combo and that the Church has an obligation to minster to everyone by offering hope, healing, health and wholeness. Your comment made my day.… Read more »

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